Bottom line: Best Inc.’s IPO is likely to price and debut weakly due to its loss-making status and concerns about China’s economy, which could also weigh on an upcoming flurry of fintech offerings in Hong Kong and New York.
After waiting months for this year’s first major New York IPO by a Chinese company, I was surprised to read the distinction looks set to go to a logistics firm backed by e-commerce giant Alibaba (NYSE: BABA). In this case the winner in this race to the IPO gate appears to be a company called Best Inc, with plans to raise a relatively sizable $750 million.
I say I’m surprised because all this time I’ve been waiting for one of a number of financial technology companies, often called fintech, to finally break through the IPO gate with the year’s first big offering. Peer-to-peer (P2P) lender China Rapid Finance (NYSE: XRF) actually took the distinction for first notable IPO of the year with its May listing on the New York Stock Exchange. But that offering was quite small at just $60 million. What’s more, the stock hasn’t exactly been a huge performer since then, and is now trading just slightly above its IPO price.
So, what’s happening here? It’s really hard to say without knowing what’s going on behind the scenes. The tepid performance for China Rapid Finance hints that perhaps there’s not as much investor appetite for these fintech offerings as many of their boosters had hoped. That’s quite significant in this case, since at least two of those offerings, Qudian in New York and the even larger Lufax, which is eyeing Hong Kong, were reportedly looking to raise $1 billion or more each.
By comparison, this new offering from Best Inc is in the safer logistics arena, and is also backed by Alibaba’s pedigree. According to the latest reports, Best, formerly known as Best Logistics, intends to make the IPO by offering shares from some of its existing stakeholders. Chief among those is Alibaba, which is the company’s biggest single shareholder with a 23 percent stake. (English article)
In this case Best, whose biggest business is its express delivery unit, may need all the help it can get from its Alibaba connection, since the company isn’t doing that well financially. Specifically, the company reported a loss of nearly $200 million last year on revenue of $1.3 billion, which hardly looks too exciting.
By comparison, ZTO Express (NYSE: ZTO), another delivery services provider that made a New York IPO last year, recently reported it earned a profit of 503 million yuan ($74 million) on revenue of 2.6 billion yuan in its latest reporting quarter. And despite those relatively strong numbers, ZTO’s stock has fallen 25 percent since its offering last year.
The weak performances for both China Rapid Finance and ZTO certainly don’t seem to bode too well for new offerings coming up over the next few months. That contrasts strongly with the performance of premium players like Alibaba and JD.com (Nasdaq: JD), whose shares have embarked on a major rally in the first half of the year.
This does appear to be the emergence of a “Tale of Two Investor Preferences”. People are probably worried about China’s stumbling economy and the many uncertainties lingering over its financial sector, which certainly isn’t surprising. Barely a week goes by these days without some kind of scandal involving P2P lenders or other similar companies in the lightly regulated private financial services sector.
It’s a bit more surprising that logistics companies are getting the cold shoulder as well, especially since the e-commerce companies that are their main customers are doing quite well. In this case Best’s money-losing status certainly isn’t too encouraging. Most of the industry’s other players are reporting profits, though perhaps investors are a bit dubious about the quality of those profits.
At the end of the day, the outlook does seem a bit cloudy for upcoming IPOs, though perhaps that could change when one of the bigger fintech offerings finally does come to market. In the meantime, this new Best listing looks like it will probably get a tepid reception from investors, and I expect it may end up raising less than its target and also debuting weakly if and when it makes it to market.